The title of this book might just as well have been “The Heart of the Matter,” but unfortunately that one was taken. But one can picture Isabel Dalhousie, the main protagonist, pondering: “Well, but would it be unethical to use the title again if it were apt?” Isabel, editor of the “Review of Applied Ethics,” ponders everything. As this late-thirties-early-forties-ish attractive woman roams the streets of Edinburgh, we are privy to many of her thoughts and observations. Smith is a very pleasing writer, and Isabel is an entertaining companion.
The “mystery” occupying Isabel isn’t much of one; I think of this book more as a way to spend a diverting day or two with lovely Scottish friends, rather than a nail-biting book you rocket through to solve the crime. Here we are dealing with matters of the heart: Isabel’s, her niece Cat’s, Cat’s ex-boyfriend Jamie’s, her housekeeper Grace’s, and Isabel’s new friend Ian’s. Ian has just had a heart transplant, and is suffering consequences that are perhaps mysterious, perhaps psychological. Isabel feels an ethical obligation to help him figure it out. The influence of the Scottish national poet Robert Burns has been deep in her life and in her culture, and thus she feels bound to her fellows: “a man’s a man, for a’ that.” But in all of these battles of the heart versus the brain, the characters confront the age-old dilemma: is it in fact “only with the heart that one can see rightly” (as per Antoine de Saint-Exupery) or should the brain be accorded hegemony?
Published by Pantheon, 2005